Becoming Floridian in Morocco
Originally posted on September 26th 2016 on my tumblr.
I was born in Florida, and between childhood and college, I lived there for a total of fourteen years. A large part of that was spent on the barrier island in Brevard County, within a mile of some of the best surfing on the East coast of the United States. Did I ever learn to surf? Nope. I was something of a boogie board aficionado, but I never tried to actually learn to surf. Part of it was a lack of interest, and part of it was a fear of sharks (let me emphasize this once again: for someone who lives a fairly adventurous lifestyle, I am a hopeless chicken). Either way, the closest I ever got to surfing was watching Rocket Power as a child.
Now, I live in Casablanca, and just a couple weeks into my new life, a colleague invited me to go surfing. It was my first solo taxi ride, that trip from my new apartment to the beach. My nerves about that part of the journey distracted me from my nerves about the actual surfing. Once at the beach, I was introduced to a few new people, both Moroccans and other expats. I was given a short-sleeved wetsuit to change into. I emerged from the little wooden changing cubicle feeling self-conscious about the super-tight outfit, but determined.
It was just like in the movies when people learn to surf. We were given a quick lesson on dry land, which was taught in a mix of French, Arabic, English, and emphatic gesturing. We warmed up with jogging and stretching. Next, we had to comically air-paddle while lying face down on the boards on the sand, then jump to our feet. Without further ado, we waded into the ocean.
Casablanca is a good place to learn to surf. Unlike in Florida, where the ocean floor drops into oblivion pretty rapidly, here the sand slopes downward at a gentle undulating grade, so I was never more than waist deep. The waves roll in, more or less consistently, and there wasn’t a noticeable undertow. The surf instructors helped us pick out the waves and would give us a push to get us started.
Thanks to my experience as a competitive swimmer, I am at ease in the water and for the most part, I could control my falls enough that I didn’t belly flop or face plant in the shallows. This was a good thing, because I fell a lot. Dozens of times. I like to think that I have good balance from riding horses, good coordination from marching band, and good upper body strength from swimming. But the evidence from my surf lesson would suggest the opposite in all cases. There was a great deal of failure before I managed to get to my feet even for a moment, and then a great deal more failure after that before I successfully stood up and remained standing to ride the wave to shore. Luckily, I enjoy the ocean enough that I usually emerged from the water sputtering with laughter at my own comical ineptitude, so I didn’t get discouraged, and eventually I began to get the hang of it.
Since that day, I have been surfing a few more times, and I manage to stand up forty or fifty percent of the time, as long as I’m riding one of the huge extra-buoyant newbie longboards. Some of the people that I’ve met at “our” little surf school (there are many formal and informal surfing instructors / surfboard rentals up and down Casablanca’s beaches) have become my friends, and I cannot emphasize enough just how kind and inclusive this expat community is here.
Before coming to Morocco, I was worried about the isolation that can so easily occur in a foreign country, but between my wonderful Moroccan roommate and this group of my fellow beach bum foreigners, I have been shielded from the worst of the inevitable culture shock. I feel fortunate to have such a helpful and fun network of people around me here in Casablanca, as well as the friends and family in the U.S. who are willing to work around the time difference so that we can talk regularly.
To anyone living abroad for the first time, my best piece of advice is to get involved in your new community, whether through a favorite activity or a brand new hobby. In either case, like my familiar hiking habit in Spain or this new surfing adventure here in Morocco, the new relationships that you build through a common experience will be a huge part of what makes a foreign country feel like home.